Meanwhile, in Europe, Volvo is pursuing the convoy model of driverless cars. In this model, a human-driven truck or bus takes the lead and anyone whose car has the appropriate technology can follow with the cars being driven by signals from the lead vehicle.
That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it will go very far. People won’t want to pay for the added hardware in their cars until there are a lot of highways with a lot of professionally driven vehicles providing the lead service. Trucking companies will have little incentive to add the electronics their trucks would need to become lead vehicles, which means government will need to subsidize it. Until lots of cars have the equipment needed to take advantage of those services, governments will have little incentive to provide the subsidies.
The advantage of the Stanford/Volkswagen/Google model is that the cars require no special infrastructure. They do require complete maps of all roads, including the speed limits, signals, and other traffic signs on those roads, which Google is developing now. “If the car enters an area that hasn’t been mapped,” says one story, Google software “will tell the operator, ‘Please drive.’”
One question I didn’t ask Google engineers when I test rode a Google car was how much memory would be needed to handle maps for all roads in North America. It doesn’t really matter as the cost and size of memory is shrinking so fast that, by the time such cars reach the market, it will probably fit in an iPhone. In any case, it is nice to see progress continuing on this new advance in mobility.